In 1996, Josie Slawik sat in the headquarters of the National Domestic Violence Hotline in Austin, Texas, and waited for the phone to ring.
The hotline had just launched as part of the Violence Against Women Act, and for the first time in U.S. history, victims of domestic violence had a single, toll-free number they could call for confidential help, day or night, regardless of where they lived.
Slawik was there to hear the first call come in ― and the next one, and the next. Over 20 years later, the calls still haven’t slowed down, and neither has Slawik. A rough estimation puts the number of calls she has answered during her career at more than 50,000.
These days, Slawik, now a 66-year-old grandmother, works the day shift at the hotline, where each call can take anywhere from two minutes to two hours. She is bilingual, and often helps the hotline’s Spanish-speaking clients. Since 1996, advocates at the organization have responded to more than 4 million calls, texts and online chats. Yet many calls still go unanswered due to a lack of resources.
The hotline’s fate under President Donald Trump is uncertain. It is supported by a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ― a department that Trump wants to cut by nearly 18 percent, according to a budget blueprint released last month. It’s not clear which programs will be on the chopping block.
According to a statement provided by the hotline, if its budget were reduced by 10 percent, more than 180,000 contacts from survivors, friends, family members and abusers would go unanswered each year. If it lost 20 percent of its funding, that number would rise to more than 220,000.
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